There was light in the sky when Ethan climbed into bed.
The sheets were cold and his wife was warm.
He should’ve called Pilcher already. Should’ve called him the moment he walked inside, but he was too tired to think. He needed sleep, if only for several hours.
“You’re back,” Theresa whispered.
He wrapped an arm around her, drew her in close.
His ribs on his left side ached when he breathed in deeply.
“Everything okay?” she asked. He thought of Peter, smoking and sizzling after the shock. The dead, naked woman lying in the middle of the road. Of almost dying, and not the first clue as to what any of it meant.
“Yeah, honey,” he said, snuggling closer. “I’m fine.”
Ethan opened his eyes and nearly leapt off the mattress.
Pilcher sat in a chair at the foot of his bed, watching Ethan over the top of a leather-bound book.
“Where’s Theresa?” Ethan asked. “Where’s my son?”
“Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“Where’s my family?”
“Your wife’s at work just like she’s supposed to be. Ben’s in school.”
“What the hell are you doing in my bedroom?” Ethan asked.
“It’s early afternoon. You never showed up for work.”
Ethan shut his eyes against a crushing pressure at the base of his skull.
“You had a big night, huh?” Pilcher said.
Ethan reached for the glass of water on the bedside table, his entire body stiff and brittle. Like he’d been broken into a thousand pieces and haphazardly patched back together.
He drained the glass.
“You found my car?” Ethan asked.
Pilcher nodded. “As you can imagine, we were deeply concerned. There are no cameras near the billboard. We didn’t see what happened. Only the aftermath.”
The light coming through the window was sharp.
Ethan squinted against it.
He stared at Pilcher—couldn’t tell what book he held. The man was dressed in jeans, a white oxford, gray sweater-vest. The same gentle, unassuming style Pilcher always sported around town where people believed he was a resident psychologist. He and Pam were probably seeing patients today.
Ethan said, “I was driving back to Pines after Peter McCall. Assume you heard what happened there?”
“Pam briefed me. So tragic.”
“I glanced into the pasture for a split second, and when I looked back, there was something in the middle of the road. I hit it, swerved, overcorrected, flipped my Bronco.”
“The damage was severe. You’re lucky to be alive.”
“What was in the road, Ethan? My men didn’t find anything except debris from the Bronco.”
Ethan wondered if Pilcher really didn’t know. Was it possible that the woman in the road had been a Wanderer? There was rumored to be a group of residents who had discovered their microchips and cut them out. Who had knowledge of the camera placements and blind spots. People who kept their chips with them during the day, but on occasion, would extract them and leave them in bed to wander undetected in the night. Word was they always wore hooded jackets or sweatshirts to hide their faces from the cameras.
“It makes me nervous,” Pilcher said, rising to his feet, “when I see you wrestling with a simple question that should require no thought at all to answer. Or perhaps your head is still cloudy from the wreck. Does that explain the delay? Why, when I look in your eyes, I see the wheels turning?”
He knows. He’s testing me. Or maybe he only knows that she was there, but not where I put her.
“There was a woman lying in the road.”
Pilcher reached into his pocket, pulled out a wallet-sized photo.
Held it up to Ethan’s face.
It was her. A candid shot. Smiling or laughing at something off-camera. Vibrant. The backdrop was blurred, but from the color, Ethan guessed that the photo had been taken in the community gardens.
He said, “That’s her.”
Pilcher’s face went dark. He returned the photograph to his pocket.
“She’s dead?” He asked it like all the air had gone out of him.
“She’d been stabbed.”
“She was tortured?”
“Looked that way.”
“Where is she?”
“I moved her out of the road,” Ethan said.
“Because it didn’t seem right to leave her naked out in the open for anyone to see.”
“Where is her body right now?”
“Across the road from the billboard in a grove of scrub oak.”
Pilcher sat down on the bed.
“So you tucked her away, came home, went to bed.”
“I took a hot bath first.”
“As opposed to?”
“Calling me immediately.”
“I’d been up for twenty-four hours. I was in agony. I just wanted several hours of sleep first. I was going to call you first thing.”
“Of course, of course. Sorry to doubt you. The thing is, Ethan, this is kind of a big deal. We’ve never had a murder in Wayward Pines.”
“You mean an unsanctioned murder.”
“Did you know this woman?” Pilcher asked.
“I’d seen her around. I don’t think I’d ever spoken to her though.”
“Read her file?”
“That’s because she doesn’t have a file. At least not one that you have access to. She worked for me. She was due back in the mountain late last night from a mission. Never showed.”
“She worked for you as what? A spy?”
“I have a number of my people living in town among the residents. It’s the only way to keep a finger on the true pulse of Wayward Pines.”
“It’s not important.” Pilcher patted Ethan’s leg. “Don’t look so offended, boy. You’re one of them. Get dressed, come downstairs, we’ll continue this over coffee.”
Ethan walked downstairs in a clean, newly starched sheriff’s uniform into the smell of brewing coffee. He took a seat on a stool at the kitchen island as Pilcher pulled the carafe out of the coffeemaker and poured into a pair of ceramic mugs.
“You take it black, right?”
Pilcher carried the mugs over and set them on the butcher block.